What are the different types of penetration testing?


As digital business becomes more widespread, the need to ensure data security increases. One way to test its effectiveness is through penetration testing.

Penetration tests are performed by ‘ethical hackers’ who attempt to gain access to systems and data to find vulnerabilities. By doing so, businesses can then take steps to mitigate these risks.

Companies should consider penetration testing as an essential part of their overall security strategy.

Here, we take a closer look at what penetration testing is, the different types and how it can help protect IT systems, data and users.

What is penetration testing?

A penetration test, also known as a pen test, is an authorised simulated attack on a computer system or network to evaluate the security of the environment. Its main goal is to identify vulnerabilities that malicious actors could exploit.

Penetration testers use various tools and techniques to carry out their attacks, including port scanners which find open ports on a system, password crackers that brute-force passwords to gain entry, and vulnerability scanners which scan for known vulnerabilities.

In general, penetration testing should be conducted periodically to ensure systems are kept up-to-date and secure against the latest and emerging threats.

Why do you need penetration testing?

As the cyber landscape evolves, it’s becoming more critical than ever for businesses and organisations of all sizes to ensure their IT networks and systems are secure.

One way to do this is by performing penetration tests, which are designed to simulate real-world attacks and identify vulnerabilities.

There are many reasons why penetration tests are needed. One of the most important is to assess a business’s cybersecurity posture, as well as the ability of staff to detect and respond to attacks. Identifying weaknesses in systems and networks can help them make the necessary improvements to protect themselves better against future attacks.

Penetration tests can also validate security controls such as firewalls and intrusion detection or prevention systems. By testing these controls, organisations can ensure they’re functioning correctly and protecting their systems effectively against potential threats. Overall, penetration tests are a vital part of any mature cyber security program.

The different types of penetration testing

There are three main types of penetration test – black box, white box, grey box. These types of penetration testing describe the level of access given to a penetration tester at the start of the project. Businesses should carefully consider their needs before conducting a penetration test. They should define the scope of the test and identify the objectives, to determine which type of penetration testing is most appropriate.

Black box penetration tests

A black box penetration test evaluates the security of a system or application by attempting to find vulnerabilities. It simulates the actions of an attacker who would have no prior knowledge of the system’s internal workings.

Black box penetration tests are typically conducted using a blend of automated and manual techniques that search for common vulnerabilities, such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting. Once potential weaknesses are identified, testers will attempt to exploit them to determine whether they can gain access to sensitive data or functionality.

Overall, black box penetration tests provide valuable insights into the security posture of a system or application from the perspective of an attacker. They are essential because they can help to find weaknesses in systems that may not be apparent from the inside. They enable a business to understand how they may be at risk of compromise by an external attacker.

However, black box tests have some limitations. They may be less comprehensive than white box tests because time restrictions may hinder a tester’s efforts to enumerate information which is readily available in a white box test. Therefore, black box tests may not be able to find certain vulnerabilities in a system which are discoverable using other types of tests.

White box penetration tests

A white box penetration test is an authorised simulated attack on a computer system, network or web application, performed to evaluate it’s security with full visibility.

Unlike black box testing, the tester has complete knowledge of the system before the test. They may also have user credentials and other forms of access to test from the perspective of an insider.

A white box penetration test aims to identify all vulnerabilities within the system so they can be fixed before a real attack occurs. During the test, the tester will use all available information about the system to find and exploit weaknesses. This includes looking at source code, architecture diagrams, and network maps.

White box penetration tests are more comprehensive than black box tests because they consider the system’s internal workings, however they can be more time-consuming and expensive to carry out.

Grey box penetration tests

A grey box penetration test combines elements of both black box and white box testing. Grey box testing offers some knowledge of the system under test, but not as much as white box.

They may, for example, know the IP address range of the environment, but not the specific hostnames or IP addresses. This allows them to simulate an attacker who may have partial knowledge of the system in question more realistically.

How can Sentrium help?

As a CREST-approved penetration testing provider, our expert security consultants have a deep understanding of how hackers and cyber attackers operate. We use this knowledge to help businesses mitigate risks to their IT systems and networks.

We want to help you improve your security strategy to protect your brand reputation, value and property. Get in touch today to learn more about how we can help.



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